Three Powerlifting Cues I Use for Tangoing

Three Lifting Cues I Use for Tango

I started dancing tango about 7 months ago. I had done a bit in college, something like 5 years ago, but not enough to really count. I was never a great dancer, in fact, during choreography for “Kiss me, Kate” I was politely told to just stand still after attempting something simple at the prompting of the choreographer. Something changed between my college attempts and now however. When I reinitiated tangoing, I suddenly felt like I was very comfortable, relaxed, and was learning quickly. I’m sure there’s something to be said for reminiscence of previously attempted motor skills, but as the moves progressed far beyond what I had ever attempted previously and the ease of comprehension stayed high, that argument seemed less likely.

I suspect that I can attribute my improvement in dancing capabilities to one thing: picking up heavy objects. Learning to train CrossFit and subsequently working a lot with movement patterns both in myself and others, I started to become aware of common faults in my own movement and mobility. While watching someone lift and watching someone tango may not seem very closely related, both activities inform one another, and illuminate movement deficiencies in each other that may not be so easily observable in the alternate modality.

As I (or my teachers) notice these movement problems, I have begun to apply my old lifting cues to help myself improve. Here are the three most frequent cues I’ve transferred from lifting to tangoing.

Knees Out: 

I don’t know how many times I’ve used this cue while watching them lift. This is a common fault which can lead to pain and decreased power. Collapsing inwards causes weird stresses on various parts of the knee. When bending in a weight bearing positions, knees should be out and feet flat.

Much to my dismay however, my tango teacher pointed out that I was collapsing inwards which performing multiple movements, both rebounds and sacadas. That was a huge facepalm moment for me. My knees had been bugging me a bit, but I’d failed to translate what I knew about lifting into another type of body movement. Luckily, now I’m aware and have begun to override this bad habit.

Shoulders Back and Externally rotated:

Another tango teacher literally did this same movement to illustrate how to get into proper posture for the embrace. I was letting my shoulders collapse inwards, leading to a fallen chest and loose arms, two things which are highly detrimental to tangoing. The lead needs to be relaxed, but firm, with a high chest and shoulders back and down. Isn’t if funny how setting up for a max effort shoulder press and embracing a beautiful woman to tango both start out with the same proper posture?

Brace your core and keep the back flat:

I say this to myself before I deadlift. Turns out it works for tangoing too. Posture is crucial, and sloppy stabilization leads to sloppy performance. Arching my back forward or backwards while tangoing (or deadlifting for that matter) is going to lead to stress and pain in my back over time. After spending an hour or two dancing, My posture often starts to falter and my back starts to get sore.

As an added bonus, good posture makes the lead much simpler to follow. It provides the body with a relaxed tension which makes communication of intention much easier between leader and follower.


Even more so than with lifting, tango takes an immense amount of concentration. I’m so busy not running into other people, and trying to figure out what I want to do next, and trying not to kick my partner, that I don’t really have time to think about all of these things while I’m dancing. How then do I improve these faults? Two ways:

Mindful practice: I will frequently decide to work in one move or work on one issue for a given song. Maybe for one song I’ll try to work on keeping my knees out during sacadas, or perhaps for the next one I’ll be sure to keep my shoulders back. (If you have a helpful partner, you can ask them to tell you if they spot you doing any of your bad habits too.)

Entering the Tunnel: Kelly Starrett of talks about entering the tunnel in a lift as being the beginning of tension in a lift. Once you have entered the tunnel, your movement pattern for the lift has been set. If you forgot to brace your core and back, you can’t go back now without resetting the lift. On the other hand, if you set your shoulders properly, it’s a fairly simple matter to complete the lift with good position. With tangoing, I try to be mindful of my posture from the first embrace onwards. Granted, I may lose it during the song, but often I can find time for a slight pause to reset myself if I notice I’ve lost it.

That’s it: knees out, shoulders back, core braced.

Fencing Tournament Physical and Nutritional Preparation

I signed up last week to compete in a fencing tournament on May 1st. Since then I’ve been contemplating how to approach the tournament. I haven’t done any fencing competitions for 2+ years. I’ve gained a lot of sophistication and knowledge in regards to physical training and nutrition in those last 2 years, so I figured I would try to use that knowledge to help improve my game at the tournament. I’m going to need all the help I can get.

Physical Training:

A week isn’t really enough time to have much of an effect on my physical conditioning. It is, however, a great amount of time to heal up. I’ve been going pretty hard the last few weeks and have some sore spots: my wrist hurts, my right index finger hurts, my foot has some hot-spots on it, my ankle is sore, and my back is sore. Nothing too extreme, but all things which could affect my ability to perform at the tournament. I fenced for a few hours today, but that was probably the last real strenuous activity I’ll do before the tournament.

I plan on doing some mobilization and stretching Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week in replacement of my usual lifting schedule and going to fencing class on Thursday to run some drills and fence a few bouts, but not to fatigue myself too heavily. I’ll also be keeping up with my usual frequent icing of my back throughout the week. The day before the tournament I’ll probably run some blade-work drills at home and just get in the mood for fencing.

Hopefully if I can lock all that down, I’ll be in pretty top shape physically for the tournament on Sunday.


The nutrition side of this is a bit more of an experiment for me. Last time I fenced a tournament, I had a completely different dietary approach (high-carb, low-fat then vs. paleo now). Thinking about the demands of fencing, I think I have a pretty good idea of what I need to eat. Either way, I’m going to try it and modify next time as needed.

A fencing tournament consists of a round-robin style pool (usually 6-8 fencers depending on the number of fencers present). I will get to fence each of these competitors to 5 points or time runs out after 3 minutes. Between each bout I’ll have a few minutes to recover. After this, the fencers are ranked and placed into a direct elimination ladder. These matches are to 15 points and have longer time limits, with a break in the middle (I can’t remember the exact times for this are, somewhere in the 3-5 minute range followed by a 1 minute break, followed by another period of fencing). These periods of fencing require elevated aerobic activity over the entire period of the bout, which short bursts of high intensity, phosphagen and glycolytic pathway work.

Because I typically eat a fairly low-carb, high-fat diet, I’m confident that I can sustain the aerobic portion of my fencing bouts and energy levels throughout the day by converting dietary and body fat into energy. I’ve been playing around the last few weeks with eating more carbs to see what happens, but in order to be certain that I can utilize fat sources effectively on Sunday, I’m going to go back to low-carb eating for the remainder of my time before the tournament. I’ll still be eating some carbs, just not pushing them like I had been the past few weeks. Breakfast on tournament day will be bacon and eggs (like usual), and I’ll bring some pemmican if I need some additional fat during the day (pemmican, in case you don’t know is basically beef-fat and jerky melded together).

The wild card then is the need for bursts of power. I’m going to need glucose to fuel those actions. I should have a reasonable amount of muscular and liver glycogen stores built up via the carbs I’ve eaten plus gluconeogenesis, but they’ll get depleted as things progress. Consuming glucose seems to be the way to go (as opposed to fructose — sucrose appears to be about the same as glucose) to restore muscular glycogen stores (see this study). Glucose also replenishes glycogen much quicker in the first hour following exercise which means I will be consuming it throughout the day between bouts, probably a banana and some berries as they have decent glucose to fructose ratios. I’ll have to go easy on the banana though so I don’t spike my blood-sugar. I’m pretty sugar sensitive since I don’t eat much normally.

Water will also be incredibly important. Wearing 3 layers of clothing and a mask tends to make one sweat a lot. To counteract the fluid and mineral loss, I’ll be prepping this week by taking a calcium/magnesium supplement and putting extra salt on my food. I’ll also probably bring along some coconut water to get some electrolytes as the day goes on. Electrolytes are critical to keep muscles and nerves functioning properly, so the last thing I need is to become deficient and lose precision or accuracy.

This is certainly all just guesses, but it should give me a good baseline to start off of and improve as I attend more tournaments.

Rebooting and the 100 Push-up Program

The last few months have been frustrating physically for me. I injured my back a long time ago (December 2009). After doing physical therapy at 3 different places, getting an epidural shot, and working with a few different trainers, I’m still pretty clueless as to what to do. I have an aggravated nerve in my lower back that flares up during a number of activities, most notably while sitting and after working out. Well, I sit all day at work (although I recently acquired a standing desk, which helps). Because of all this sitting, my back stays in pain for several days after I work out most typically. Anyways, I don’t want to go on about that too much other than to say that I’ve been frustrated with it. I haven’t been able to work out and as such, I’ve been losing muscle mass and weight. I don’t like losing.

I recently started tracking in a spreadsheet all of the activities that I do in a day and pairing those with a 1-10 scale of pain for the day. I’m hoping I can determine the most damaging activities and avoid those, while still remaining as active as possible. This finally brings me to the point of this post: I need something to work towards physically, and I need that activity to not aggravate my back too much. Near as I can figure, push-ups don’t hurt too much.

I’m hereby embarking on an attempt at the 100 push-up program. It’s a program designed to get one to 100 pushups in 7 weeks. I’m not sure that I believe the hype of the program, but it looks like a good starting point to get myself to 100 pushups in a row. I did my test to start off and I got 41 in a row to start, so I’m starting off on week 3 of the program. I’ll be modifying as needed to include more rest and some cycling, but consider this game on.

Who’s with me? If you want in, do the initial test and post your score in the comment and what week you’re starting on.

Look I’m famous!

Check it out, I got my a picture of me (looking really haggard) featured in my gym’s post for the day. Check it out on the Dogtown Crossfit site.

Not only that, but I had a good day of lifting today. Starting off the day with a 200lb hang power clean PR was pretty awesome.